Christians and the Jewish Law

Kevin Drum asks [*], in connection with the claim that approving gay marriage would violate Biblical strictures, why the same Christians who cite Leviticus against homosexual conduct don’t feel bound, for example, by the identically-worded prohibition against eating shellfish.

The orthodox Jewish viewpoint [*] is that the Law of Moses is binding on Jews, not on human beings as such. The purity code in Leviticus, and much of the rest of the law code laid out in the Torah and elaborated in the Talmud, is for the Children of Israel as “a holy people, a national of priests.” Just as Brahmins are expected to keep themselves pure in a way not required of Hindus generally, Jews are supposed to follow lots of rules that do not apply to human beings generally. (Of course, in Judaism the hereditary priesthood, the Cohanim, live under an even more stringent set of rules.)

To me, that makes Halakha seem much more sensible than it would otherwise be; to have special rules marking out a special social function makes sense, while having the Creator of the Universe worrying about whether you eat pork makes no sense.

In the Jewish tradition, only the seven laws imposed on Noah at the Covenant of the Rainbow are said to be binding on all mankind. Those laws are said to be: (1) prohibition of blasphemy; (2) prohibition of idolatry; (3) prohibition of adultery and incest; (4) prohibition of murder; (5) prohibition of robbery (theft); (6) establishment of courts of justice; and (7) prohibition of the eating of flesh form a living animal, or the eating of blood.

That’s a lot less restrictive than all that stuff in Leviticus, but still not generous enough to allow roast beef au jus: “Meat with the blood thereof shall ye not eat, for the blood thereof is the life thereof.”

(The Lubavicher Hasidim and the Christian-Jewish movement called “Jews for Jesus” both have missionary efforts designed to encourage non-Jews to know and keep the Noachide Covenant.)

So even from the Halakhic perspective, it’s pointless to criticize Christians as somehow inauthentic for not living like Jews. But by the same token, the attempt of the Christian right to pretend that the Bible somehow commands us to write selected portions of the Levitical purity code into our secular lawbooks is pretty obviously silly.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: